It’s a pretty normal thing for dog owners to tell me that they don’t think their dog will cooperate for photos because they refuse to look at the camera. I tell them that’s okay because we’ll work together to make their dog’s experience so much fun that they won’t even realize there’s a camera to look at. How I get your dog to look at the camera comes down to three tricks of the trade:
Noises, treats, and their favorite things.
Let’s start with my go-to method of making noise.
Did you hear that?
Things often said by clients at their dog’s photo session:
“Where’s that sound coming from?”
“Is that the photographer?”
“Oh my gosh! HAHAHAHAHA!”
Most of the time, weird noises are how I get your dog to look at the camera, unless they are deaf. I’ll still use the noises with deaf dogs, but that’s mostly out of habit. My favorite noisemakers (other than the vast library of sounds I make with my voice) are a collection of everyday and specialty items. A little squeaky ball, a foil cat toy, or an empty plastic bottle that’s partially crushed. A squirrel call, a bird call, or even just the sound of my fingernail scratching my fanny pack.
You have to get creative in this work because every dog is different. Some are fascinated by the simplest things, while others require you to get really weird. That’s not a problem for me because I’m totally up for getting weird. For the deaf dogs and those who just don’t care at all about noises, we focus on one of the other two methods: treats or their favorite things.
I’m really into snacks.
I am. I love snacks, so I appreciate when dogs are treat motivated. Here’s the thing about using treats at sessions… I try to hold off on using them if possible because for some dogs, once the treats come out, that’s all they care about. Your dog’s session is about capturing them doing what they love. Sure, if they love snacks, it makes sense to include that in their photos. We want to create a stress-free experience which means we don’t want to get them amped up about the fancy treats in our pockets.
With that said, I always ask my clients if they have a particular treat their dog likes, and if so, to please bring it with them. I always have high value treats, specifically Wild Weenies, on hand just in case we need variety.
The secret to using treats to get your dog to look at the camera is where you hold the treat. During your dog’s session, I will hold the treat (or I’ll ask you to hold it) directly above my lens so that your dog is looking right into it. They’ll think they’re looking at the treat, but in the photo it’ll look like they’re looking right into the camera. After taking the shot, they get the treat, and everyone is happy. If your dog couldn’t give a darn about snacks, then we’ll focus on what they do love.
You’re my favorite. And you’re my favorite too.
The other ways I get dogs to look my way involve utilizing their favorite things such as toys, specific phrases and even their favorite person. Incorporating their favorite toys into the mix is easy, especially if “play” is their biggest joy. Much like using treats, holding their favorite toy above the lens will help to get them looking at the camera. It’s also important to give them playtime in between photos. So, like the treats method, we reward them after getting the shot we’re after.
With dogs who react to specific phrases like “Do you wanna?” I usually only have a few times to repeat the phrase before they catch on that we’re not going for a walk or to Grandma’s house. It’s still fun to use for those few tries, and usually they’re very interested in why this strange woman is asking them about their grandma.
For dogs whose favorite thing in all the land is their person, I’ll ask my client to come stand behind me so that their dog will look my way. At this point, I’ll try out some noises or their favorite phrase. In the pre-Covid world, it wouldn’t be abnormal to come upon one of my sessions to find my client’s face positioned right above my lens while I’m laying on the ground to get the shot. I told you things get weird.
It’s also okay if they don’t look at the camera.
For several reasons, it’s okay if your dog doesn’t look at the camera. We’re never going to force them to do something they really don’t want to do. We’ll try, with joy and enthusiasm, to inspire them to look our way, but if they decide it’s not going to happen, that’s okay. We can still create gorgeous photos of them doing what they love. Photos that feature dogs looking at the camera create a feeling of connection, but I also love photos of dogs looking caught up in the moment because it’s as if we are witnessing them experiencing their world. I try to get a combination of the two in every session, but if your dog is happiest when they’re just doing what they love, then that’s what we’ll focus on the most. I’ll likely still make a few weird noises, though.
If you’d like to find out more about how we can create a wonderful photo experience for you and your dog, let’s schedule a time to chat.
The world of pet photography is amazing, and I’m thrilled to be surrounded by so many talented individuals who are doing great things. To learn more about the subject of working with dogs who won’t look at the camera, check out Nancy of Nancy Kieffer Photography shares tips for photographing a camera shy dog.